2015 BMW M3, M4 First Drive
Restoring the Faith
Allow me a moment of crankiness and I’m quick to whine about how BMW’s M division has been lost for the better part of the last decade, building cars (SUVs even!) with stupid-quick acceleration and face-twisting grip, but with all the soul of a microwave and the road feel of a panzer. The current M5 and M6 are uninspiring at best, and even the last-generation M3 didn’t put a big, goofy smile on my face until it was howling near its 8400-rpm redline. Unless it was pushed hard, it wasn’t a special, memorable car. Sure, Fat Elvis could still sing, but his spirit was broken.
That is why BMW’s newest M duo, the M3 sedan and M4 coupe, is such a huge relief. Even better, both cars are equally brilliant, with a weight difference of just 10 pounds between them. The engine, transmissions, and suspension tuning are identical, and while the M4 has a slightly lower center of gravity (think a couple of millimeters) and its aerodynamics are subtly different, you’d need to be BMW factory DTM driver Joey Hand or Timo Glock to notice the difference. What is readily apparent is that both cars are an absolute blast to drive.
Read about 2015 BMW M3, M4 current and future competitors:
You might expect the 3.0-liter twin-turbocharged (TwinPower in BMW-speak) straight-six engine to be an evolution on the N55, but according to BMW it shares nary a part with that more pedestrian mill. The crankshaft is forged and lightened, the connecting rods are hollow, and the engine block is sleeveless, with a low-friction nickel-based coating on the cylinder walls. The M division is particularly proud of its hollow carbon-fiber driveshaft, which gives significant rotational mass savings. All told, the S55 is good for 425 hp and 406 lb-ft of torque. Not only is that torque figure 38 percent more than the last M3’s S65 V-8, but it’s also available from just 1800 RPM, half the speed of the E92’s torque peak. Turbo lag is virtually nil, giving nearly immediate power delivery and very sharp throttle response in the Sport + engine management setting. It also holds its own in a shouting match, with the exhaust baffles opening under load to a full-sounding growl.
Purists will be thrilled to know that two transmissions are available: a seven-speed dual-clutch unit (an evolution of the previous gearbox) and a traditional, six-speed manual built by ZF, which comes courtesy of the 1M coupe, albeit slightly modified for M3/M4’s higher torque output. BMW estimates that 20 percent of M3/M4s will be sold with the manual, which is particularly popular in America. With the DCT, BMW conservatively estimates (its words, not mine) that both M3 and M4 will rocket to 62 mph in 4.1 seconds, though it suspects that when we get a car to test, it will actually dip into the high 3-second range to 60 mph. The rear-mounted transaxle is based on the beefy unit found in M5/M6, and an electronically controlled limited-slip rear differential, capable of locking fully under acceleration and braking, is standard equipment.
The identical M3 and M4 suspension is unique to these models. BMW has thoroughly reworked the geometry and used aluminum to save weight wherever possible, including the front control arms and rear multilink setup. Optional 19-inch wheels are said to be the hot ticket, wrapped in 255/35/19 Michelin Pilot Sports up front and 275/30/19s at the rear. These wheels were fitted to my test car, along with the larger optional carbon-ceramic brakes with six-piston front calipers. Eighteen-inch wheels are standard, but only the standard steel brakes will fit under those – the carbon ceramics are too big around. The rear subframe is mounted directly to the car’s body, and huge anti-roll bars are found front and rear. A hollow carbon-fiber strut brace looks fantastic underhood and is said to stiffen the front end significantly while saving several pounds over an aluminum counterpart.
Weight savings have also been realized in the body, with a carbon-fiber roof used for both the coupe and, for the first time, the sedan. The front fenders and hood are aluminum on both cars, while the coupe also gets a carbon rear trunklid with a curved rear lip spoiler (similar to that found on previous Europe-only M3 CSL models) that reduces lift on the rear axle. The sedan gets a Gurney flap at the rear of its trunklid to do a similar job. All told, the new car is said to weigh nearly 200 pounds less than the last-gen example.
As we’ve come to expect from today’s M cars, there are several user-adjustable settings for the suspension, steering, and throttle response. Suspension and steering options range from Comfort to Sport to Sport +, with steering effort increasing and suspension firming up along the way, while the throttle settings start at Efficiency, then run through Sport on the way to Sport +. For enthusiastic road driving, the Sport setting seems to be the Goldilocks solution for all three adjustments, though track work benefits from the sharpest settings, which are just a bit too aggressive on the road. Easy access M1 and M2 buttons on the steering wheel are programmable for two different user-adjustable presets.
On the road, both sedan and coupe drive virtually identically. Both are extremely focused and an astonishing amount of fun to drive. The ride is very firm, even in the softest Comfort setting. Sport + is really too firm for most back roads and the uneven surfaces that come with them. That said, the cars remain incredibly flat (helped no doubt by those beefy, hollow anti-roll bars) to the degree that there’s really no perceptible roll on the street. Though it’s somewhat a foregone conclusion with so many cars in the age of electric steering, feel from behind the wheel is a little disappointing. Precision and weighting are excellent in Sport + mode, but there’s just not a huge indication of what’s happening at the front tires’ contact patches.
Full throttle acceleration gives a sharp-edged growl worthy of a BMW straight-six and shifts from the M DCT (no manual transmissions were made available) were seamless and somewhat violent with the adjustable shift speed at maximum. Adjust the shift response to be slower and they become softer as well, which is fine for around town. Driven into a sharp bend too quickly, there’s a hint of understeer that is easily reversed with some unwinding of the wheel and a throttle lift, then a stab of the throttle after the car settles to bring the tail around. At nearly 3600 pounds, both sedan and coupe always make you aware of their mass, but they don’t feel bloated. Both cars respond well to trail braking, rotating slowly or very quickly depending on how sharply you turn in. The new twin-turbo six pulls strongly until peak horsepower at 7000 rpm (redline is 7600 rpm), and I’m happy to report that the electronically limited top speed of 155 mph is within reach fairly quickly on deregulated stretches of autobahn. (I saw an indicated 240 kph, or 149 mph, and the car was still pulling well.) Cars equipped with the optional M Driver’s package get a limit of 174 mph.
At the fast, hilly race track that is Portugal’s Algarve Autodromo, both M3 and M4 held their own. The Michelin Pilot Sports remain sticky after multiple laps and the carbon-ceramic brakes gave no fade, but there was plenty of noise (an odd rubbing sound) and odor after a few hot laps that included several hard stops from triple digits. Steel brakes were unavailable to try. A ride-along with BMW DTM driver Glock showed that the M4 is quite a driftmeister. With enough skill, lurid, smoky drifts at massive slip angles are entirely possible, and in fact, the M Dynamic Mode is designed to allow that kind of behavior to a certain degree, before intervening.
The M3 and M4 hits showrooms this June, while convertible lovers will have to wait until September for the drop-top M4. Which to buy? If it were my money, the M3, with identical performance and feel to the coupe and the added practicality of four doors, gets the vote.
For more than 160 additional photos of the 2015 BMW M3 sedan and 2015 BMW M4 coupe, head to page two of this review.
|2015 BMW M3, M4|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Front-engine, RWD, 4-5-pass, 2-door coupe/4-door sedan|
|ENGINE||3.0L/425-hp /406-lb-ft twin-turbo DOHC 24-valve I-6|
|TRANSMISSIONS||6-speed manual, 7-speed twin-clutch auto|
|CURB WEIGHT||3550-3600 lb (mfr)|
|LENGTH X WIDTH X HEIGHT||184.5 x 73.6-73.9 x 54.4-56.1 in|
|0-60 MPH||3.9-4.3 sec (mfr est)|
|EPA CITY/HWY FUEL ECON||16-18 / 26-28 mpg (est)|
|ENERGY CONSUMPTION, CITY/HWY||187-211 / 120-130 kW-hrs/100 miles (est)|
|CO2 EMISSIONS||0.90-1.00 lb/mile (est)|
|ON SALE IN U.S.||June 2014|